Bishops sign open letter criticising welfare reforms

A man and his daughter on a council estate in Derby The government says the changes will save £7bn in welfare spending

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Eighteen Church of England bishops have signed an open letter, criticising the government's proposed welfare changes.

In the letter, in The Observer, the bishops express concerns about plans to limit the amount any household can claim in benefits to £500 a week.

Their intervention has received the backing of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York.

The government says the reforms are designed to reduce a culture of benefit dependency.

The bishops say the cap could be "profoundly unjust" to children in the poorest families and they have a "moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice".

They are backing a series of amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill - due to be debated in the House of Lords on Monday - which have been tabled by the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, Rt Rev John Packer.

'Falling into poverty'

He told the BBC: "It is unusual for a very considerable number of bishops to come together and to sign a letter, and we do consider we have a very particular concern for children and to prevent children from falling into poverty.

"The bill as it stands looks to us as though it could cause very considerable damage to children - particularly those in larger families, it being no fault of the children that they're in larger families."

The government says the changes, due to come into effect in 2013, will save £7bn in welfare spending and will encourage people currently on benefits to go out and find a job.

Start Quote

It simply isn't fair that households on out-of-work benefits can receive a greater income from the state than the average working household gets in wages”

End Quote Department for Work and Pensions

But the Children's Society, which supported the bishops' letter, has warned the cap could make more than 80,000 children homeless.

It has proposed the bill should be amended to remove child benefit from the calculations for household income.

The signatories are from the dioceses of Bath and Wells; Blackburn; Bristol; Chichester; Derby; Exeter; Gloucester; Guildford; Leicester; Lichfield; London; Manchester; Norwich; Oxford; Ripon and Leeds; St Edmundsbury and Ipswich; Truro; and Wakefield.

There are a total of 108 bishops and 43 dioceses in England.

For Labour, shadow chancellor Ed Balls said it supported efforts to get people back to work and believed welfare should not be open-ended.

But he said the government's approach was flawed and suggested Communities Secretary Eric Pickles had warned it could lead to 40,000 people having to leave their homes.

"The bishops have got a point," he told Sky News. "I don't think the government have designed this at all well. Let's not do this in a way which hurts the poorest by throwing them out of their homes."

London rent

Earlier this month, church leaders in Northern Ireland warned that the reforms would push vulnerable people into "precarious levels of poverty".

It is estimated the cap, which would apply to the combined income from benefits such as jobseekers' allowance, housing benefit and council tax benefit, could result in about 50,000 families being about £93 a week worse off.

London is expected to be one of the worst affected areas, because of the high cost of renting in the capital.

Earlier this week, a study on behalf of London Councils said about 133,000 households in London would be unable to afford their rent if the proposed changes went ahead.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the proposed cap would be the equivalent of an annual salary of £35,000 a year before tax.

"It simply isn't fair that households on out-of-work benefits can receive a greater income from the state than the average working household gets in wages," he said.

"Many working-age families with adults in work cannot afford to live in central London, for example, and it is not right for the taxpayer to subsidise households on out-of-work benefits who do."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    Britain has managed to have a low wage economy because of its NHS and welfare system if you dismantle them you are looking for trouble because the nation is better educated then ever before and I cannot see the present generation accepting the status quo If we want a good life we have to start thinking on the other person

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    I suppose people who believe in God have to endure the endless meddling of tiresome, left-wing bishops spouting from the pulpit, but why of why given them the time of day in the press? They are increasingly a total irrelevance in this country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    As I meet the bishops' definition of being in poverty (earn less than £35,000) can I have some welfare benefits as well?

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    NO religion has the right to have a political say on anything ,they should stick to preaching there cults, or get a real job and see how we live in the real world; I work never earned more than £16000. That said if the govt want to save money. stop all none Europeans from claiming any form of benefit, stop paying money to former commonwealth nations,high rate tax on religions profits and holdings

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    If anyone wants to complain about their benefits levels, get them to ask a war hero how they survive on £200 a week (taxed of course), with no recourse to other public benefits.

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    While there are some households that take advantage of the benefits system, most dislike being on benefits and have come into difficult circumstances, lost their jobs after years of paying NI etc. Many will suffer as a result of reforms. We all know who the real culprits of the economic crisis are. Why doesn't the govt go to them first to recoup its billions? There's no doubt THEY won't starve!

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    As a christian, my trust in the church is much restored by it aligning itself with Christ - the church has regained its moral standing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    What if we had housing people could rent from the council at say £60 per week? it could have been done with the millions of council houses that were sold off, the building cost had been paid 50 + years ago, and now it would be just the maintenance. Short term vision by any previous and current government. No one on housing benefit should be in a property at more than £300 per month rent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    because TV, phones and fags contribute nothing to this nation's future. Because TV, phones and fags don't involve years of hard work that bringing up children involves. Because TV, phones and fags aren't helpless little people who will suffer if they are denied proper living conditions in their formative years.

    I really thought that'd be obvious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    What on Earth do serious political issues like this have to do with the church? I want to hear what politicians say about this matter, not a Bishop! Stick to Sunday service guys.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    As a Londoner I for one cannot wait for these reforms to be pushed through and all these families to be finally pushed out of my overpopulated city. Crime will fall, living standards will rise because councils have more money to spend and life will generally be better. Those of us who are hardworking and share buildings with these scruges of society will also be able to get a good nights sleep.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    I think it is about time that the church and government should promote the stopping of benefits for those who produce children and have no intention of working, part of the money should go on sex education/sterilization. No doubt the human rights do gooders will report/delete this comment, but before you do that, just think about it.

  • Comment number 168.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 167.

    So hang on a minute, let me get this straight. It's considered "acceptable" by HYS mods, to refer to the unemployed as "scroungers", but it's no acceptable to use the same word to refer to irresponsible casino bankers ?
    It's about time the BBC stopped bowing to political pressure from the Tories, and showed a bit of editorial independence.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    The Church is meant to act as a personal moral guide not a political one.

    I can't help but notice a depressing lack of morals in society, why's that?

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    What a load of old rubbish!
    These "lords" should stick to what they get generously paid to do--
    perform masses.
    They should not even be in the upper house of parliament--I don't
    remember any of them being voted in.
    I wish I had £500 per week of TAXFREE money to play with--I
    wouldn't have to worry then about paying bills or heating the house.
    Put a limit of £250 per week--AND TAX IT!!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    .."encourage people currently on benefits to go out and find a job".
    If there were any jobs to find....
    You must remember that many of those 'tarred with the same jobs' were working, but because of the economic tsunami, now have been thrown onto the state. I know, I was one. Earning about €2200/month, now get €411/month on the dole. Finland's more generous, thank God.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Based on the maths of Wideboy I would be around 3 times better off going onto benifits than working as I do, is there any reason that people live of the state if its so comfortable,

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    In reply to Stunned_Silence .
    I know that bringing up a child properly is hard work, but what the heck lets forget about doing it properly, lets forget about doing it properly, have a few we can't afford because the state will foot the bill, then have a few more just for an added bit of luxury.
    You won't stop children living in poverty until you stop encouraging children being born into poverty.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    what will happen to the private rental market, you know the one's who are charging extortionate rents that working people cannot afford, when there is a cap on benefits the rental market will collapse, which has got to be a GOOD thing, these parasites who operate in the private rental market have ripped of the taxpayers for far too long, the Govt. need to put a cap on rents not benefits.


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